BEMIDJI, Minn. — Forty-one years have elapsed since the last time Bemidji State defeated North Dakota, but on Sunday night, the Beavers erased that footnote.
Dan Bakala (26 saves) and the Beavers (4-8-1, 2-6-1 WCHA) were able to get over the hump, clamping down to shut out the North Dakota Fighting Sioux (4-7-1, 2-6-0 WCHA), 1-0, in front of 3,746 at the Sanford Center.
The first victory over the Sioux as Division I opponents and first overall since the Nixon administration couldn’t have come at a better time for the Beavers, who squeaked past UND to snap a four-game winless streak.
To Bakala, snapping that streak over a team they hadn’t beaten since the Beavers were in the NAIA was just icing on the cake.
“Right now, we need any win that we can get,” Bakala said. “But these guys have had our number for so many years and it was just nice to stick it to them. They didn’t outplay us, we held our own. They didn’t outplay us, we just straight up beat them.”
Like Saturday night, Bemidji was able to hold serve with the Fighting Sioux for the first two periods. The two teams were scoreless in the first. Then, after North Dakota’s Andrew MacWilliam and Mark MacMillan both took penalties on the same play, Jordan George found a loose rebound 1:12 into the ensuing five-on-three and tossed it off the top of Aaron Dell’s (23 saves) pad for his seventh goal of the season.
That goal was the first power-play goal in seven games for the Beavers, but to head coach Tom Serratore, scoring that goal was more than about breaking a streak.
“Quite honestly, it was not necessarily the power play goal as much as you have to score on a two-minute five-on-three,” he said. “And if you don’t score on a two-minute five-on-three, I think we all realize what happens – momentum goes over there. It’s a mind game with your power-play unit and with your team if you don’t score on that. We needed to convert it and we did.”
North Dakota kept shooting in search of an equalizer and found plenty of opportunities to do so. Jamie MacQueen, Darcy Findlay, Bakala and Matt Prapavessis all took minor penalties and Matt Carlson’s checking from behind penalty get North Dakota a five-minute major in the third.
Bakala and the Beavers held on and didn’t let North Dakota capitalize on any of their six power-play opportunities after going 2-for-4 Saturday night.
“The kids showed a lot of resiliency,” said Serratore. “The boys earned it and I’m proud of how they competed.”
For Bakala, it was his seventh career shutout. Serratore, however, was quick to put a lot of the credit on the shoulders of the Beavers’ defense, which blocked 21 shots.
“Dan [Bakala] played very well, but again, I thought we played well away from the puck,” said Serratore. “That goose egg was a team goose egg in my eyes.”
For North Dakota, it was another loss indicative of a young team that can’t seem to find consistent offensive output.
“I think we just have to look in the mirror,” said UND senior defenseman Ben Blood. “I don’t think it’s anyone we’ve played.”
Hakstol also alluded to some players in Sunday’s loss not making contributions to a team that needed the sweep to get back on track.
He didn’t single anyone out, but he said there were “a lot of people in the lineup tonight that didn’t provide a whole lot to the team and their teammates.”
Blood added that they are on the cusp of being able to win games consistently, but once again were unable to turn the corner.
“We’re right on that edge,” he said. “We were right there to take that step forward tonight, but we’re not mature enough. We’re not experienced enough to take that step to become a good hockey team.”